Ken Marunowski likes the power of large canvases. On a big surface, he can immerse himself in an abstract expressionist (or AbEx) mode of painting, focused on mark-making and intuition. The AbEx movement gained prominence in the 1940s through an anti-figurative, non-objective style of painting pioneered by artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, all influences on Marunowski.
“Until I moved to Bend and had a garage to paint in, I was never able to express myself in such a large format,” the artist said. “As soon as I started experimenting in this way, it became quite obvious that this is the kind of painting I am meant to make.”
In April, Marunowski had his first solo exhibition of medium-to-large paintings titled, “Spirit of Play” at the LAURA VINCENT DESIGN & GALLERY in Portland’s Pearl District. “Because I don’t require myself to reproduce any degree of likeness, I am able to focus on fundamentals like value, hue, composition, texture and form,” he said about the paintings. “Without an external referent other than a memory or feeling to guide my decision-making, everything is left for me to discover, an open-ended process of creating something from nothing.”
A life centered on art, teaching and France
A passion for France, its language and the Impressionist movement influenced Marunowski’s art even as a youngster, when a French teacher opened his eyes to the world of arts and culture. As an undergraduate at Kent State University, he received degrees in studio art and French, and studied at the Marchutz School of Fine Art in Aix-en-Provence.
Marunowski’s background is awash in academic achievement, including a Ph.D. in literacy, rhetoric and social practice. He took a job as an assistant professor of advanced writing at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2006. With summers off from teaching, he often studied at the Painting School of Montmiral in southwest France, which reignited his passion for making art. By 2015, he was tired of teaching and left the university to pursue his artistic calling.
Following a cross country trek of hiking, camping, painting and visits with family, he and his wife Carly arrived in Bend, where his sister lives. In 2016, he returned to Aix-en-Provence for a six-week artist residency at the Marchutz School.
A full-time Bend resident since 2016, Marunowski continues to pursue his lifelong passions of painting, teaching and writing. He taps into his extensive writing background as a regular contributor of Cascade A&E. He teaches painting and drawing classes at Layor Art + Supply and the Bend Art Station and exhibits his paintings at the Artists’ Gallery Sunriver, The Wooden Jewel and at various Bend businesses and organizations, including Eastlake Framing and the Cascade School of Music.
“Over the past two years, Ken has rotated paintings around the building,” said Robert Lambeth, executive director of the music school. “Often, I’ll stop by the lounge with its huge walls adorned with Ken’s paintings and catch a student staring into one of them, lost in reverie. Abstract art lends itself beautifully to that. It’s been fun to watch our students glean inspiration from a style they’re not readily exposed to, especially in Bend where we love our landscapes,” Lambeth said.
On any given day, you might find Marunowski at his part-time job at Eastlake Framing or guiding groups of families and friends in collaborative and individual abstract painting through his business, Spirit of Play Art.
Or you can catch him in his garage studio where there’s just enough space to let spontaneity present itself in explosions of color, marks and shapes. “People, myself included, want to return to feeling, sensation and emotion,” Marunowski offered. “All of these lie at the forefront of abstract expressionist painting. It is a form of personal expression, a way of letting go and exploring within, but always with a critical eye.”